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Author Paula Finn Talks to TVGrapevine

How would you describe your book?

SITCOM WRITERS TALK SHOP is a collection of in-depth interviews with legendary television comedy writers. The subjects share behind-the-scenes anecdotes, laugh-out-loud humor, and rare insights into their creative process. Their stories prove that comedy writing isn’t all laughs: sometimes it’s vomiting, weeping . . . even “bleeding from your ass!”

This book will appeal to sitcom fans, pop culture junkies, comedy buffs, aspiring humor writers, students of television history, those eager to hear behind-the-scenes stories of their favorite shows and stars, anyone curious about the creative mind and process, and anyone who wants to know what the life of a Hollywood writer really is like.


What inspired it?

My father wrote such classic shows as The Honeymooners, Gilligan’s Island, The Gale Storm Show, and The Flintstones. I originally planned to write a memoir about growing up with a funny father. When I spoke with some of Dad’s former colleagues about it, they happened to share with me someanecdotes about their own careers. I quickly realized that broadening the book’s scope to include several comedy writers was the way to go.


What was the most challenging part about writing it?

Deciding on a final format. I ended up with 1300 single-space typed pages of transcripts,

which lent themselves to either Q&A’s, single-topic discussions amongst several writers,

or a combination of the two approaches. My editor and I finally agreed on Q&A’s,

some of which include relevant “Behind the Scenes” sidebar information from additional writers answering such questions as “Was there real beer on the Cheers stage? How did Bill Cosby infuriate Danny Kaye? Which writer passed out mid-joke?


What was the most rewarding part about the experience?

The most rewarding part of it is now. I’m receiving so many heartwarming compliments

from reviewers and TV historians – even my favorite celebrities have thanked me for writing this book. 


Who inspires you as a writer?

I’m actually inspired by everyone whose writing I enjoy.


What was your favorite part of the book?

My favorite is the Appendix, titled “More Tales from the Writers’ Room.” It’s a round-table discussion format with several writers participating, sharing a variety of insights. Topics include pitfalls of pitching, ridiculous censor memos, biggest laughs, room lingo, rats under the sofa (in at least one room!), and a comedy writer’s unique take on the world. 

 

What else are you writing on?

I’m focusing on writing shorter articles and guest posts on a variety of humor-related topics. (continued)

I’ve also authored ten inspirational gift books, and have licensed inspirational quotes and prose worldwide for years. I currently manage three online stores selling gift products that feature my writings combined with the work of several talented photographers.


What is a fun fact that would surprise your fans?

I’m dating myself here, but when I was fifteen I snuck out of the house and took a cab to Sonny and Cher’s house. They welcomed me in, we watched Bewitched on TV…they were wonderful. They gave me an autographed copy of The Beat Goes On, and Sonny gave me $5 for cab fare home. I wonder how many of today’s teen idols would be as hospitable to their young fans. 


What are you currently reading?

I love British writer Peter Lovesey’s mysteries; I’m currently reading his Beau Death.


Who are some of your favorite authors?

Peter Lovesey, Cornell Woolrich, sci fi writer William H. Nolan, and Isaac Asimov (his Union Club mysteries in particular). I grew up on Ellery Queen mystery magazines (I took them to school with me for free moments between classes). 


What are you watching on TV these days?

The sitcom Mom and the Murphy Brown reboot. I can’t wait for the next Curb Your Enthusiasm season!

I also enjoy classics like Frasier and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.


Anything else you want to tell America?

Never underestimate the power of humor! It can make the most painful circumstances tolerable, if not even enjoyable. One of the writers I talked to, Steve Skrovan, puts it this way: It’s the most powerful thing when you can crystallize things and make them clearer to other people, and then they laugh. And I’ve told my kids this, too. I said whatever you do, be funny. I had lunch with a president of Yale University; he’s a PhD scholar, a powerful guy – and he just wants to be funny. There’s nothing more powerful than that…other than having a machine gun! [Laughs]

 

 

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